Upper Arlington News

State of the City

Partnerships lauded as way to weather challenges

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Charles Dickens' classic opener "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" was a theme for Upper Arlington's State of the City address Monday night as city officials outlined both the good and the bad from 2013.

Speakers at the Jan. 27 event at the Municipal Services Center included City Manager Ted Staton, UA City Council President Don Leach, Vice President Deborah Johnson and schools' Superintendent Paul Imhoff.

Leach said the city had tremendous real estate development in 2013.

From 2011 to 2012, there was a 38-percent increase in residential and commercial development in the city, he said, noting that developers invested $70.7 million in such projects as a new mixed-use building on Lane Avenue and new housing within the city.

The two investments contributed to a 167-percent jump in commercial development and reinvestment from 2012, Leach said.

"That's a remarkable reinvestment in our community that we collectively are making," he said. "It's a great sign for the future of Upper Arlington."

The city hopes to continue its development along Zollinger Road and Lane Avenue, Leach said.

The popularity of the Amelita Mirolo Barn as a facility for events and activities helped bring in $82,285 in revenue in 2013, he said. In addition, Leach said UA exhibited a strong housing market in 2013, with the second-highest number of home sales in the area. Average home prices are now $394,000, he said.

New residential projects being planned include 11 units in London Court Condominiums on Tremont Road, 256 apartments at Berkley House Apartments at Riverside Drive and Bethel Road, and six one-acre lots at Riverstone Estates at Riverside Drive and Lane Road.

Both Leach and Johnson pointed to the results of a community survey that gave Upper Arlington ratings of "good" or "excellent" for safety, services, schools and city officials.

Based on the survey, Johnson said, residents are proud to call Upper Arlington their home.

"They appreciate the level of services they receive, they think the government officials are doing a good job, and generally have a positive perception of the city's financial future," she said.

Officials also noted that in 2013, Upper Arlington received statewide and national recognition. The city was highly ranked for safety and for being a family-friendly community by such publications as nerdwallet.com, Columbus Monthly and Family Circle magazine.

But as Dickens said, with the best of times comes the worst of times.

"We have to be honest about the challenges we face in the community," Staton said.

State funds that went toward capital improvements and infrastructure upkeep won't be available this year.

The city's engineer created a 10-year plan for capital requirements, for which Upper Arlington needs, on average, $11.3 million in annual expenses.

"The challenge is finding funding. That will be one of the projects we will be looking at carefully this year," Leach said.

The lack of state funding is not the only hit to the city's economy. Staton said Upper Arlington suffered a combined loss of $22.2 million thanks to an economic recession and the bursting of the real estate bubble several years ago.

State government had to make the necessary adjustments to recover from the recession, which meant reducing funding to Upper Arlington by $2.7 million since 2006 and eliminating the estate tax in January 2013, which will average a $4.7 million annual loss in the future.

"We like to blame the state of Ohio, but it is much more complicated than that," Staton said. "But we did experience cuts from the state of Ohio in the Local Government Fund."

However, he said, the city has made budget changes, including cutting the number of municipal employees from a peak of 304 to 218, a 28-percent reduction; decreasing health-care costs; and eliminating employee pay raises in 2014.

The city also is working with neighboring organizations, agencies and communities to help costs, such as:

A deal with Ohio State University that allows the city to fuel its cars at the university's fueling stations, creating a savings worth "tens of thousands of dollars," Staton said.

A collaboration with Norwich Township and Grandview Heights to maintain fire equipment.

A regional hazardous materials team that works with the police regarding drug-related and Internet-related crimes. Staton said it would be "considerably more expensive" to do alone.

A new way to store salt by using an Ohio Department of Transportation's storage facility.

Residents are helping the city, too, Staton said. Thirteen volunteers on a Citizen Financial Review Task Force are studying Upper Arlington's expense structure and looking for ways to reduce costs. The task force will make recommendations to city council by summer, Staton said.

Superintendent Paul Imhoff said the city and school district "serve the same community."

"By working together, we can provide residents with services that are more robust, more efficient and more convenient," he said.

Examples include a partnership between the district and the police department to put a school resource officer in place, with the district and city sharing the cost; plans by the school board to meet in city council chambers on Tuesday nights, beginning in March; the joint publication of a newsletter; and participation in Gov. John Kasich's "Start Talking" anti-drug initiative.

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